DVD REVIEW: FLYING COLORS – “Third Stage: Live In London”
It’s been over a week now since I last reviewed an album with Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy in the band. And since that was too long a time, I’m moving on to the upcoming Flying Colors DVD/CD ‘Third Stage: Live in London’ which documents the final concert of their 2019 world tour. A Flying Colors tour is a rare sight given how busy the band members are with their full time bands, so filming (another) live DVD was a foregone conclusion, and one fans of the band will be very thankful for.
Flying Colors is of course a prog/pop supergroup. Comprised of the aforementioned Neal Morse (keys/vocals), and Mike Portnoy (drums/occasional vocals), and Casey McPhereson (lead vocals/guitar), Steve Morse (guitar), and Dave LaRue (bass), all members have other bands (or several) which draw their full time attention, so 2019’s ‘The Third Degree’ and subsequent tour was the first time in five years since anyone had heard anything from them, expectations were high, and the new material well received.
The show kicks off with the funky bass lines of “Blue Ocean” and the band breaks into one of their proggier numbers. The song is the opening track from their self titled debut, which is one I haven’t spent as much time with, so watching the joyous gusto that the band ripped into it was certainly a treat. From the very beginning it’s clear that they’re all having a great time playing this music together, and the crowd is quite appreciative. As with the more recent DVD releases that Neal and Mike have been in together, this DVD has a slower pace to the editing process, lingering on the individual musicians, and holding wider shots of the whole band. The crowd noise is certainly there in the proper places, but this isn’t one of those disks that show the audience constantly, which is certainly fine with me.
After “A Place in Your World”, Mike takes the time to humorously tell the crowd “Welcome to the rarest of all sightings, rarer than a UFO sighting, rarer than a sasquatch sighting – a Flying Colors sighting, here on stage in London!” announcing that the show is being filmed, and introducing the first song from their latest album “The Loss Inside.” The track is one of the heavier numbers in the band’s catalogue, so decent speakers certainly highlight the mix. LaRue’s bass dances between jazz, and prog and is crystal clear throughout, something that on far too many live releases isn’t the case.
Unsurprisingly the show is heavy on newer tracks, with six of the fifteen songs played being from the newest album. One song which I didn’t care much for on the record, but liked a lot more in this setting was “You Are Not Alone” which heard on its own sounds like a simple song of encouragement, and positive affirmation, which I’m not a big fan of in music. Casey introduces it however by telling the crowd that he wrote the song after his experience of pulling survivors from the water in Huston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The story and the projection video behind the band playing footage he shot during the trip added a whole new level and emotion to the song, which I appreciated.
Although Flying Colors is by and large a prog project, they go in many musical directions that have little to do with that, and the music contains a lot of pop hooks. The best example in this show is the Neal introduced “Love Letter.” With a strong Beatles and Beach Boys vibe, it’s an upbeat song that allows Casey, Neal, and Mike to all sing to their individual strengths, and also harmonize, and layer vocals together.
The main set finishes with the one two prog punch of “Crawl” another new song, and “Infinite Fire.” Steve’s guitar pyrotechnics at the end of “Crawl” are certainly a highlight of the evening and “Infinite Fire” closes it out in a manner that is fitting to the song’s name, bringing the crowd cheering to their feet. The band doesn’t waste much time going off stage, and coming back for the encore, which begins with the nearly 13 minute “Cosmic Symphony.” Another song I wasn’t really familiar with prior, it contains a lengthy instrumental section in the middle of the song which is metal fused rush to the head, before closing with an extended quiet ending portion which sees Casey hop offstage and sing his way through the isle before finishing the song back onstage. The show ends with the fairly short, but heavy “Mask Machine” which closes the two hour show quite nicely.
My only slight complaint is the occasional use of graphics over the screen and covering the band. It’s a complaint I’ve had before with some of the Radiant Records releases, and one I’m sure doesn’t bother some people. I find them annoying, and distracting, but they thankfully aren’t used very much, and don’t adversely affect my enjoyment of the show. I did miss not having “The Last Train Home” (my favorite from the new album) on the setlist, but you can’t have everything. It should also be mentioned that the Blu-Ray, and DVD contain additional footage, music videos, as well as a 55 minute performance from the 2019 Morsefest. The extra show was a nice treat, and filmed in an equally professional manner.
Flying Colors doesn’t produce new music, nor tour together very often. But when they do, they produce something special. ‘Third Stage: Live in London’ is an excellent example of catching a band of exceptional musicians on just the right evening. With incredibly tight, and emotional playing, smart camera work and editing, this is for my money how a live DVD should look and sound. Recommended to their fans, and discerning rock fans in general.